Wordless Wednesday – A ‘Hands On’ Museum Experience

This Wordless Wednesday features our family outing this past weekend to a local children’s museum, Imagine That!!! located in Florham Park, New Jersey.  These are great places where kids can run around, experience and actually touch different things.  At this museum there were so many great interactive exhibits including an art/paint area, music, dance, puppets, archeology, TV studio, vet office and post office, among others.  It is sort of like a HUGE indoor playground and was a great way for the kidlets to burn off some energy. They are so much fun, so much so that I get right on in there with my kidlets and play with them, making me a kid again, at least for a little while.

Both of my kidlets LOVE music and enjoy playing with instruments.  The two of them were fighting over who would bang the drum first, as you can see, my daughter won!

I told my son this is the closest he’ll ever come to riding a motorcycle in my lifetime!

My son is one of my knights in shining armor (the Hubs is the other!)

My daughter kept getting into this brick-red, vintage WV Beetle, here she’s telling mom not to be a backseat driver!

Reading To Kids Is FUNdamental!

About once a month on a Saturday morning or a lazy Sunday afternoon the Hubs & I take our two kidlets over to the library to stock up on books. Our son is four and daughter is two and both are such book lovers we’d go broke if we bought them even half of the ones we borrow each month from our local library!

We mainly read to our kidlets at night before they go to bed, but we have been known to squeeze in one or two into our morning routine before rushing off to pre-school (for the kidlets) and work (for us, though – I wouldn’t mind swapping with them for a day!).

Not only is reading a great way to stimulate young minds and is the first step getting them learning to read on their own, but it’s also a great way to spend quality, one-on-one bonding time together.  I love nothing more than having one – or both – of my kidlets cuddling up under my arm on the couch, being quiet, still and totally in the moment of taking a story in.  Sometimes we point and talk about different elements of the pictures, other times we sound out words together.

Like a lot of boys, our son likes books that feature trucks, cars, dragons or dinosaurs in them while my daughter prefers ones that center around animals and people.  There are some books we’ve read to them a thousand times and our kidlets can recite the story along with us!  There are also some books that are a total bust, with the binding cracked open only once to read.

Here’s are my kidlets top five current favorites, in no particular order:

The Artist Who Painted A Blue Horse is the latest entry from Eric Carle.  If you are a parent, I am sure you know him well. We have many other of his books such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar; Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and From Head to Toe, to name just a few.  His books are simple and straightforward with wonderfully colorful illustrations.  In this book, the animals are painted in bold, wild, and unexpected colors  – just as a child would paint them. Most of Carle’s  books are also printed as durable board books, so they stand up to destrcto kidlets, but this one is a large hardcover one with slick, glossy pages.

 

I Stink by Kate & Jim Mulligan.  It’s the story of one garbage truck’s alphabetic trip through the city collecting trash! My son’s favorite part of this book is when I put on my garbage truck voice “Beep, Beep, outta my way!”  We’ve also read almost all the others in this series I’m Dirty, I’m Mighty, I’m Big and I’m Bad.  Only from researching this blog post did I discover that these authors just came out with a new installment in the series entitled, I’m Fast I’m sure I’ll have to find that book at the library this weekend!

The Little Red Hen by Paul Galdone is based on an old folk tale.  The little red hen finds a grain of wheat and asks for help from her animal housemates to plant and tend to it. However, no one will help her. She winds up making a delicious cake that her friends want to eat, but since she made it alone, she eats it all by herself.  The moral of this story is that those who show no willingness to contribute to an end product do not deserve to enjoy the end product.  I have to read this book to my daughter EVERY DAY.  Why?  I really don’t know, the closest I can come is that I think she likes the repetitiveness within the story itself.

A Dragon Moves In by Lisa Falkenstern. A rabbit and hedgehog are enjoying a picnic when they feel a rumble and think they’re having an earthquake.  Rather, it’s an egg-quake, a baby dragon one. Baby moves in with rabbit and hedgehog and before long realize they have a growing problem, their dragon! Instead of moving to a new home they decide to follow the current suburbanite trend of razing the house and rebuilding a much larger mc-mansion in its place.  The illustrations in this book are spectacular, the expressions of the animals faces are so lifelike, but not in a scary way.

Personally, I like the moral behind The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper.  It’s teaches children the value of optimism and hard work and how when you combine these two traits together, no mountain is too big to climb.   This is the first book my son actually bought himself, with birthday money his Great Aunt had sent him.  He had heard this book at school and came home asking for it about a year ago.  My hubs had an earlier version of this classic tale as a child (which is also still available) but I really like the updated artwork.  Now my daughter adores it as well.

There are so many more books that I’d love to talk about, but this post would go on FOR-EVER, and we can’t have that, so I’ll just list a few honorable mention books here – sort of my list of reliable and “go-to” books in a pinch:

Margret & H.A Rey’s Curious George and the Firefighters

Corduroy by Don Friedman

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems

(and his other series Knuffle Bunny are good ones too!)

What are your kids favorite books to read?  What was your favorite book when you were your kids age?  Have you read it to them yet?

Crock Pot Buddies Recipe Link Up – Veal Stew W/Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Rosemary

Week three for me and my Crock Pot Buddy, Cristina over at centraljerseyworkingmoms.com!  Have you tried any of our previous recipes?  If so, please be sure to let us know either via comments here or our Facebook pages.  This week, we both tried completely different recipes.  Using her “Yugo”Crock Pot (her words, not mine!), Cristina made an authentic vegetarian Mexican Black Bean Soup, which has me running to the border for more!  This week, I’ve got a recipe for Veal Stew with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Rosemary – but check out who the actual chef was!

Originally this week I planned on featuring my Lip-Smack-A-Licious Pot Roast.  That was the case until the Hubs said that he wanted to take a crack at this week’s featured crock pot meal.  “Yes, that’s a FABULOUS idea!” I answered before he even could get all the words out. There was NO WAY I was going to let him back out of this!

Ah, the Hubs’ words were like sweet, sweet music to my ears – a song that said someone else was going to make dinner!  Instead of me shopping for all the groceries, cooking the meal, serving it up, clearing the table and washing the dishes (okay, that last part would really be me just putting everything in the dishwasher!), I could actually just come to table at dinner time and really “enjoy” a meal!

The Hubs scoured several of our crock pot cook books all on his own and picked out this recipe: Veal Stew with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Rosemary. When I asked, purely out of curiosity, why he picked that one – he told me that it didn’t have a lot of ingredients and didn’t have a lot of complicated directions to follow.  Plus he wanted to cook something that utilized an ingredient out of his comfort zone-veal.  “Works for me,” was my reply.   He dutifully wrote up a grocery list and the entire family went to the local market to get everything needed for this meal.

I decided that it would be best that while he was prepping this meal, that I should stay out of the way, safely tucked away in our bedroom.  I didn’t want to stress the Hubs out with me hovering over him, watching every cooking step (or misstep) he made.  Now, let me tell you, my Hubs is a GREAT cook.  He has made me many wonderful dinners, he’s the king of the grill and can cook a mean piece of meat on the outdoor rotisserie.  But cooking inside, keeping things neat and clean, well, not so much….frankly, I was a concerned about what condition the kitchen would be in when he was done.

At one point, I heard him yell “dammit!”  I thought he might have accidentally burned his hand or the food, but it turned out he dropped a chunk of veal he was browning in a frying pan on the on the floor and our dog Bailey snapped it up in record time.  Bailey seemed to like it, even more than the stack of the kidlet’s crayons we discovered her eating the other day! I guess that bode well for the Hubs’ culinary crock pot adventure!

However, it did make me ask him, “Why were you using a frying pan?  There’s a sauté setting on it, so that you can do it all in one place.”

Clearly this man has not read my other two Crock Pot Buddies blog entries, since that’s one of the main features I mention as to why we got this particular crock pot….but I digress.

I asked the Hubs for his thoughts on putting the dish together.  Since he had never cooked veal before, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but he thought it had a chicken breast or even scallop-like consistency.   At one point, he thought that he might skip the flouring the meat step, which initally seemed kind of un-necessary to him, but was glad that he didn’t.  He thought it really did make a difference when not only browning the meat, but also helped to thicken up the liquid portion of the recipe.

So now, for the actual meal……he sheepishly brought the crock pot insert to the table along with a plate of lightly fried polenta discs (I think you could also serve it with buttered egg noodles if you don’t like the texture of polenta).  He carefully scooped some of his creation and poured it over the polenta.

It looked beautiful – a lovely contrast of the yellow of the polenta with the browned meat, balsamic vinegar and bright red sun-dried tomatoes and smelled great – if you can get the fresh rosemary, do it, what an aroma you get from it! I like dried rosemary, but it can be overpowering–kind of like biting into a Christmas tree that’s still sitting around the house in January!

How did it taste? It was simply delicious.  Hubs has said that he now wants to cook his own crock pot recipe at least once a month.  So maybe we’ll have more from Chef Hubs and I’ll be a less Harried Mom!

Here is the recipe:

Veal Stew With Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Rosemary
Prep time:   20 minutes
Serves:   4 to 6 people
Slow Cook Time: 5 ½ to 6 Hours on HIGH or 8 Hours on LOW

Ingredients:
2 Lbs boneless veal stew meat, trimmed of fat, cut into 1 ½ inch chunks & blotted dry
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp of freshly ground pepper
3 Tbsp olive oil
½ cup dry white wine
One 14.5 can low sodium chicken broth
1 large yellow onion, sliced into half-moons
8-10 large mushrooms (your choice), sliced
4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/3 cup oil-packed sun dried tomatoes, drained and cut into thin strips
1 ¼ tsp of fresh rosemary, minced  (if available) or about 2 tsp dried Rosemary crushed
1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Directions:

1. Combine the flour, salt &  pepper in a bowl and dredge the veal chunks in the flour, shaking off any excess

2. In a large skillet, over medium-high flame, heat the olive oil until hot. Add the veal in small batches and cook until browned on all sides, about 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer veal to slow cooker.

3. In the skillet, add the wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the pan and cook until wine has slightly thickened about 1 to 2 minutes.  Pour all the liquid into the slow cooker over the veal chunks.

4. Add the broth, onion, mushrooms, garlic and stir everything together.

5. Cover and cook on HIGH for 5 ½ to 6 hours or LOW for 8 hours, until veal is tender enough to cut through with a fork.

6. Stir in tomatoes, rosemary and vinegar. Taste for additional salt & pepper.

Please link up below your favorite Crock Pot recipe – and don’t forget to share your shortcuts or improvements to the dish!  Remember, there’s always time for a home cooked meal with your crock pot!

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All Aboard! One Commuter Mommy’s Nightmare…

When I was growing up in Northern NJ, not far from where I actually live today, my father worked in New York City and commuted weekdays via the bus.  He walked to and from the bus since it wasn’t too far from our home.  However, on rainy days my mom would gather my sister and I into the back seat of our old Dodge Polara sedan (that was some boat of a car!) and pick him up at the bus stop so he wouldn’t come home totally drenched. As a kid, commuting didn’t seem very glamorous to me.  Sure, I’d seen plenty of TV shows and movies where the hard-working husband grabs his overcoat, takes the last slugs out of a mug of joe, breezes by his wife and gives her a peck on the cheek as he races out the door to catch the train or bus to his job at the ad agency or the architectural firm in the big, bad city. But it didn’t really look like anything I wanted to experience day in, day out.

Fast forward 20 some-odd years to me getting married and living in the Jersey-burbs.  Both the hubs and I work in New York City so one of the conditions of where we set up house was that there had to be a train station nearby.  We thought trains were more reliable than buses plus the Hubs gets motion sickness easily. Seriously, I’ve seen him start to turn green taking our kidlets on the merry-go-round!

I’ve been commuting now by train for some eight years, and for the past four years I took the same NJ Transit train home everyday so I knew all the conductors, greeting each with a knowing “I’m a regular” nod and formed a friendship, most of them unspoken, with a group of commuters who traveled on the same train as I.  I knew the people to stay away from,  like the man who talks to himself while crunching on a bag of Doritos and then always had an awkward streak of nacho cheese dust on his pants, the group of rowdy sports-talking, beer-drinking investment bankers, or the woman who always seemed to misplace something – her train ticket, lipstick, phone, whatever, and would frantically search all her belongs for that day’s missing item.    There were also those I didn’t mind sharing a seat with, like the woman who knits hats and booties for intensive care/preemie babies, the IT man who showed me the latest apps and best games to get on iPad, or the older gentleman who was always reading a book about history or a famous figure.

Well, last week I started a new work schedule, which now has me working from home one day a week (yay!), but has me leaving the office later on the other four days (boo!).  So I’m now taking a later train home and I am trying to size-up my new train companions so I can navigate a “safe” seat for the ride home.  So far, I’ve encountered a man who eats an entire six course dinner on the train, in a sort of Bento box set up, but it’s definitely not Asian cuisine (smells more like fried fish and Brussels sprouts), a lady who fake coughs any time it looks like someone is going to sit next to her, and another woman who I refer to in my head as “the bag lady” since she carries about six different size bags and doesn’t want to put any of them on the rack above the seat — there are a lot of people who have perfected this rather rude “don’t sit next to me” trick.  Oh, and there is a man who clearly doesn’t take his coat dry cleaners enough…PEE-ew!  It used to be that I would get to the train with a good 10 minutes to spare, and had my choice of seats.  With my new schedule, I’m now getting to the train with about 3 minutes to spare before departure and my seat pickins’ are pretty slim…. So which of these evils have I gone with, well, last night I went with smelly coat guy last night since I’m totally all congested and can’t tell B.O. apart from a bouquet of flowers!

The Hubs recently made a brilliant discovery, an express bus that stops in our town.  He’s done that route a few times with no motion sickness.  He said while the bus is sometimes crowded, it’s just as fast, if not faster than the train.   I’m seriously considering switching to the bus line, especially if I can’t find a safer, saner, less-stinky or more entertaining co-rider to share my seat with!

 

Crock Pot Buddies – Loaded Baked Potato Soup

For this week’s Crock Pot Buddies Link-Up, my partner-in-cooking Cristina from centraljerseyworkingmoms.com and I decided that we’d both prepare the same recipe.  Cristina likes to joke that I have the “Cadillac” of all crock-pots with my multi-setting, hi-tech Cuisinart Multicooker, while she’s totally old-school, with a classic style crock-pot with just two settings.   Cristina had a recipe in mind – Crock Pot Style Loaded Baked Potato Soup.  Though I’m not a huge fan of potato soup, it looked easy enough and figured I should open myself up to new meals, so I agreed.

Now, we both were making the same recipe, but would one of us have an advantage over the other?  I have to say I got a little nervous. What if my hi-tech wonder wasn’t up to the challenge?  Would my own cooking skills (I know, it’s a crock pot – you basically toss and go, but go with me here) be up to par with Cristina’s?  We’re both Italian by heritage, and we can debate for hours over each other’s Sunday sauce, but maybe she has an ace up her sleeve, like she’s a culinary institute graduate and just not telling me!  You can read Cristina’s take on this week’s recipe by clicking here – but only when you’re done reading & sharing your recipe with me first, OKAY!

I originally planned to make this recipe this past Monday, until I realized you actually have to peel the potatoes for this dish. Prepping spuds while my kidlets ran around the living room on top of the time I still needed to pull myself together for work was not a smart way to start the week.   Plus, I had the wrong kind of potatoes! I needed Russet but only had Red Bliss on hand. So Monday night the hubs was sent out to the local supermarket to pick up baking potatoes, garlic, a pint of heavy cream and some sour cream, none of which I had.   Note to self:  make sure to read weekly Crock Pot Buddies recipe in advance and add those items to Sunday grocery shopping list!

As you might remember from last week, my crock pot is a whopping 7 quart one and most recipes out there are written only for 4 – 5 Qt ones, so I have to make adjustments to accommodate that…and I do it all by that old Italian cooking technique – my gut.  So not scientific at all, and I can’t give you exact amounts for increasing to a larger crock-pot, but as the hubs said to me – why not just double the recipe?  Well, duh, that would be too easy, wouldn’t it. ;)  Anyway, our local grocery didn’t have large baking potatoes, so the hubs brought home a 5 lb bag – and I wound up just using all of that for this.

Do you know what it’s like to peel five pounds of potatoes?  I felt like I was on KP duty.

My sink with all the potato peels – I felt like I was in the Navy and on KP duty

Potatoes, peeled – now I cut up one large onion, garlic, added butter (I used unsalted), salt/pepper and chicken stock.  I had originally planned to make this totally vegetarian, but alas, as I was putting everything together, I realized I had no vegetable stock in the house and the hubs certainly wasn’t up for another supermarket run – so chicken stock would work fine.

All the nicely peeled and chopped potatoes, minced garlic, onion, butter, salt & pepper

I came home that night and it looked a little like mush, but don’t fear, it is supposed to look that way. Remember, those potatoes had cooked for eight hours after all!  I took my potato masher and mashed all that goodness up.  I added some “taco” flavored shredded cheese and only about ½ the amount of heavy cream.  I stirred it up, ladled it into bowls for the hubs & me, put a little dollop of reduced fat sour cream and sprinkled with some chives.

Here’s what my final result – and please keep in mind, I’m no food stylist! I was a little nervous by the lack of spices in this dish, but it was PLENTY flavorful.  The potatoes really break down nicely and release all of their goodness, combined with the garlic & onion.  It really did taste like a baked potato, only in a liquid form.  My main suggestion – plus that of my #1 food critic, the hubs – was that my version wasn’t “soupy” enough.  It was pretty thick and hearty.  Next time I’ll make sure to add a bit more stock to it to thin it out a bit.  I’m sure you can add carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, or even meat to it, just like an actual baked potato. Mmmm-next time, bacon!   I had enough left over to store some in an airtight container and pull out for dinner one day next week when I don’t have the time or inclination to make dinner.

So here’s the actual recipe and instructions.  All these measurements are for a 4-5 Qt slow cooker…

Crock Pot Style Loaded Baked Potato Soup
Prep time: 15 minutes
Serves: 6 to 8 people; 2 cup serving each
Slow Cook Time:  4 hours on HIGH or 8 hours on LOW

Ingredients:
6 large baking potatoes , peeled, cut in 1/2 -inch cubes
1 large onion , chopped
1 quart chicken broth
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup butter
2 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup cream or 1 cup half-and-half cream
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Optional ingredients:
1 cup sour cream (optional)
8 slices bacon , fried & crumbled
cheese , for sprinkling

Directions:

1.     Combine first seven ingredients in a large crock pot; cover and cook on HIGH for 4 hours or LOW for 8 hours.  The potatoes should be tender.

2.     Mash mixture until potatoes are coarsely chopped and soupy is slightly thickened.

3.     Stir in cream, cheese and chives.

4.     Optional ingredients – Top with sour cream, sprinkle with bacon and more cheese.

Please link up below your favorite Crock Pot recipe – and don’t forget to share your shortcuts or improvements to the dish!  Remember, there’s always time for a home cooked meal with your crock pot!

 

I Want To Hold Your Hand…..

Two weeks ago, I was looking forward to a fun-filled weekend with my hubs and kidlets – a Monster Jam show for my son, a little Nana & Pop Pop time for my daughter and then wrap it all up with the big game, the Super Bowl on Sunday night.  Instead, it all changed when barely after midnight Saturday morning, I felt a pain I had never felt before.

Fast-forward to 6:30 AM: I was being wheeled into the operating room, prepped for emergency surgery.  I wasn’t sure where to look – there were lots of doctors and nurses buzzing around.  My head was dizzy from following them all.  I saw the clock on the wall and just focused on that. I watched the second hand rotating around its face.  Time was ticking by and it seemed to go by so fast.

Had it really been merely five hours earlier that I was in bed lying next to my husband when the pain in my abdomen became so unbearable that I woke him and told him I needed to go to the emergency room?

“They’ll probably just tell me it’s gas,” we joked to each other, but somehow I knew in the back of my mind that it probably wasn’t.

Luckily, it wasn’t a busy night at the ER. In fact, there was only one other patient there and she was being transferred, so I got to see the doctor right away.  I didn’t have a fever, I wasn’t nauseous and aside from the pain, I didn’t feel “sick.”  However, the moment the doctor touched my stomach the pain was unbearable.  He told me he was sending me for an MRI, but it seemed likely that it was my appendix.   I was given two vials of some plastic-tasting drink, a shot of dye into my IV and then off to the MRI.  It took longer for the tech to take me to and from the actual MRI than waiting for the final diagnosis.

They quickly confirmed it was my appendix. It was severely inflamed and they told me I was lucky it hadn’t burst. But it had to come out: surgery would be imminent.  The doctor said he would go make the arrangements with the surgeon, but before he left I asked if I could use my cell phone.

It took me a few tries to get my home phone number correct.  My hands were shaking and I kept dialing the wrong number.  After dialing the correct number, The Hubs picked up the phone and asked me “what time is it” and “where are you?”

I told him “It’s 4:30 and I’m still at the hospital.  It’s my appendix and they’re going to send me as soon as possible to surgery.”

There was a long silence from each of us.

I lay there on a gurney in the empty ER, fighting back tears so I could hastily make arrangements with my husband.   I told him I’d call my sister and ask her to come over to the house ASAP.  He would call his brother and ask him to do the same.  We both agreed that it would be best if my husband would stay home until the kidlets got up that morning, and explain that mommy was sick and had to go to the hospital.

As soon as we hung up the phone my tears started to pour out.   Sure, I’d been to the ER many times before, but never for myself.  I had been there holding the hands of my kidlets  for the various bumps and bruises they got from falls, with my hubs when he got a nasty lung infection, and recently when both of my parents dealt with serious illnesses.

Now it was my turn, but no one was there with me to hold my hand.  I had never felt so small, alone or scared before in my life.

Though I’ve birthed two children, I’d never had an operation in my life and certainly had never been put under full anesthesia before.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I met about a dozen different technicians, nurses and doctors who all came at me asking a million questions:

Could you be pregnant?

When was the last time you ate food?

If necessary, would you want a blood transfusion?

Are you allergic to any medications?  What about latex?

All your personal items, including your wedding band and engagement ring will be put in the security safe, if something were to happen to you, who should we release the items to?

Who is your next of kin and can you give me their cell phone number?

One of the nurses, sensing and clearly seeing my fear tried to reassure me.  “Don’t worry, getting put under is nothing.  In fact, it’s probably the best sleep you’ll ever get.”

My mind, however, wandered to dark places, imagining a string of terrifying scenarios. “Will I ever see my family again?” “What if something happens during the operation?” “What if I don’t wake up?”

Yes, it started to seem like the beginning of a tragic Lifetime movie.  All I wanted was to have my husband there with me, holding my hand.  At that very moment my Blackberry buzzed with a text message.  It was from my husband.  It said, “I love you” quickly followed by “I will be there as soon as possible.”   The moment I read that, I got a total sense of zen-like calm.  He was holding my hand – virtually at the moment, but he would soon be by my side and all would be okay.

I sent him a text back, saying “I love you too” and send this picture:

As I looked at the clock in the operating room tick away the seconds I thought, the kidlets must be up by now and daddy’s probably telling them about me, they’re thinking of me and I’m thinking of them…they were holding my hand too.

The next thing I knew, my name was being called.  I was in the recovery room.  I opened my eyes and the first thing I saw was a clock – now it was 8:30 am and as I groggily looked past the clock and the nurse, I saw my husband being brought to my side.

The first thing he did was hold my hand…

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How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count The Ways….

The other day the Hubs asked me what many women would take as a loaded question: “what are we doing for Valentine’s Day?”

I quickly rattled off the plans: “Well, for the kidlets, I got a Lego Hero Factory Toy and a Hello Kitty dinner plate set, plus a couple of cute cards. As for us, lets just exchange cards, no gifts.” Hubs seemed a little skeptical of my answer, but after reassuring him, he believed me and seemed satisfied with my answer.

“No gifts” for Valentine’s Day? I know to some people it might be sacrilege to say that, but, honest, I’m really not totally devoid of any sense of love or romance. I mean, what girl doesn’t want flowers, candy, perfume or jewelry to celebrate the day?

Sure, I like those things and would love to be on the receiving end of any of those items, but do I need them?  More importantly, do I need them from my husband on February 14 in order to demonstrate just how much he loves me?

Look, I know my Hubs loves me.  I mean, this is a man who sees me at both my best and worst and he still continues to be by my side. This is a man who sees me every morning without makeup and my hair in total disarray. He has heard me burp, fart and other various bodily noises. He is the only person, other than myself, who knows exactly what is hiding beneath my Spanx! He is the man who watched so lovingly as our two kidlets came out of my body and still tells me all the time how beautiful and sexy he thinks I am.  He also knows how to romance me in the little, unexpected ways– he does the laundry without asking, watches bad 70s TV shows with me, and keeps the kidlets occupied on Saturday mornings allowing me to sleep in. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

A recent photo of me & the Hubs – it’s one of my favorite all time ones of us.

Do I expect that Hubs will abide by my “just cards” edict?  Probably not, I’m sure he’ll get me some flowers under the guise that they are from the kidlets. See, just another reason why I know he loves me!

What are your plans for Valentine’s Day?

Crock Pot Buddies – Recipe Blog Hop

One of the daily stresses that is part of being a working mom is “What are we going to eat for dinner?”  After working a full day, coming home and cooking a meal is not something I look forward to or necessarily want to deal with.  Ideally I want to relax and hang with the kidlets, since I haven’t seen them all day, but until I get my own live-in chef, it’s either me or the Hubs preparing the family meals.

During the summer it’s easy to just toss something on the grill. It’s quick  and we can play outside with the kids until the meal is ready.  The grill is still an option for the winter since we have a gas line connected to it, but I’m not a big fan of going out into the freezing cold to take care of the food!  During the wintertime, I usually rely on my handy-dandy friend, the crock-pot. Before I go to work, I toss everything in, set it to cook for x-amount of hours and when we get home, not only does the house smells amazing, a hot meal is awaiting us.  And since it’s all cooked in one pot, it reduces the after meal mess!

Ah, the much maligned Crock-Pot; along with its groovy cousins Presto Burger and Mr. Coffee, it seems like no 1970s or 80s kitchen was without one (usually in “lovely” Harvest Gold or Avocado Green!). We got our first crock-pot when we were married eight years ago; it was one of those perfect wedding registry gifts.  It wasn’t all that high tech and didn’t have too many settings. In fact, it only had two: high or low.  One feature which I always wished for was an option to sauté in the pot itself.   For pot-roasts, chicken and sausage recipes – I always wound up having to brown them in a separate frying pan on the stove before putting them in the pot to cook.  So now instead of just cooking with and cleaning a crock-pot, I also had to scrub a frying pan, often washing away the best flavor from the bits on the bottom of the pan.

I was convinced that there had to be a crock-pot out there that was a little more versatile.  So I went online and did some research on the new slow cookers out there.  I was amazed at all of the options now out there.  There are models that not only sauté, but steam cook, have multiple temperature settings and even ones that you can actually also use on a stove top.

I eventually settled on what I think is the Cadillac of slow cookers-the Cuisinart Multicooker.  I was so giddy that I used it the first day I got it.

Full disclosure: This is not my kitchen, I wish mine looked that good & stylized!  This is the actual photo ad for the Cusinart Multicooker

To christen my new crock-pot I selected a  fairly simple recipe in a slow cooker magazine, Chicken and Portobellos with Mustard Cream.  I browned the chicken in the crock-pot and then with just the touch of a button, switched over to a roast setting and added my wet ingredients.  In three hours, I had some flavorful chicken, but it was a little dry. Turns out that most slow cooker recipes are made for 5-quart cookers and mine is a whopping 7-quarts, so all my important cooking liquid evaporated away to keep the chicken moist.   Note to self – going forward I would have to make liquid adjustments to most recipes to accommodate my humongous crock-pot.

Actually browning the chicken in my new hi-tech slow-cooker

Anyway, it was still was a tasty meal, one that we’ve already had more than once.  Here’s the original recipe – for a 5 Qt Crock Pot:

Chicken and Portobellos with Mustard Cream
Prep time:  15 minutes
Slow Cook Time:  5 to 6 hours on low OR 2 ½ – 3 hours on high

Ingredients:
3    Large, fresh Portobello mushroom caps, sliced
2     Cloves of garlic
3 ½ to 4 Pounds of meaty chicken pieces (breasts, thighs & drumsticks), skinned
2    Teaspoons of dried rosemary, crushed
½   Teaspoon of Kosher salt
¼   Teaspoon of fresh ground pepper
¼   Cup of chicken broth (fresh, canned or bullion cube)
¼   Cup of dry white wine (either cooking or table wine)
2    Cups of shredded romaine lettuce
½    Cup sour cream
1    Tablespoon country Dijon-style mustard (grainy mustard)

Directions:

1.    Sprinkle chicken with dried rosemary, salt & pepper and lightly brown chicken pieces in slow cooker set on “sauté” or in a separate frying pan.

2.    In a 4-to-5-quart slow cooker combine mushrooms and garlic. Place browned chicken in cooker. Pour broth and wine over chicken.

3.    Cover and cook on either low heat setting for 5 to 6 hours or high setting for 2 ½ -3 hours.

4.    Transfer chicken to a cutting board and pull meat apart into shreds discarding any bones. Line a serving platter with washed and shredded romaine lettuce; top with the shredded chicken.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the mushrooms from the cooker and place on top of chicken.  Discard the remaining cooking liquid.

5.    For mustard cream, in a small serving bowl, combine the sour cream with the country Dijon-style mustard.  Serve chicken and mushrooms with mustard cream, and if you have some fresh rosemary sprigs, you can garnish with that.

It’s only been a few weeks since I got my new slow cooker and I’ve made at least one meal a week in it – usually doubling the recipe so I have some extra to tuck away in the freezer for one of those “uh-oh” nights where I don’t have anything on hand for dinner.   I’ve done chicken, pot roast, and even spare ribs with sauce.  They’ve all come out yummy and I’m ready to get more adventurous with the meals….and I’m looking to you to help me out.

What are some of your favorite slow cooker recipes?

Beginning this week and for every following Thursday, my friend and fellow mommy blogger Cristina from centraljerseyworkingmoms.com will share with you a crock pot recipe that we have actually cooked for our family.  Sometimes they will be different recipes, like this week, or others it will be the same one – just our different takes on it.  We know first hand, how busy a mother’s day can be whether she works in a traditional office or at home.  With some simple and quick preparation, we hope to help you pull together one meal you know your family will love.

I hope that you’ll enjoy with new weekly feature and join us in sharing your favorite recipes in the Mr. Linky feature below – feel free to share both your tasty recipes and even some of the disasters!


Kids In Common

 I am so thrilled that this story was included on BlogHerMom.  Thank you for stopping by to read the whole story!

Featured on BlogHer.com

My style is not to give the hard sell the entire time, but to sprinkle my pitch with casual conversation to hopefully find a shared connection with the reporter. Either I was having an “off” day and was totally boring or this reporter was the least inquisitive person on the planet. I was never more thankful when our salads were quickly followed by our meals and the check discretely handed to me. This meeting, my pitch and potential coverage of my project was heading for a complete bust. I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible and lick my publicity wounds back in my office. It was also clear that he wanted to make a fast get-away, as he kept checking his iPhone for any excuse to get away. However, like any good publicist, I wanted to give the reporter my business card.

I reached down into my purse to grab my business card holder and mistakenly grabbed this and placed it on the table instead:

My son’s Hot Wheels Houston Fire-EMS Rescue vehicle

Look into the purse of any mom with pre-schoolers and you’re likely to find cars, toys, dolls, lollypops, half-eaten candy, used tissues and wet wipes, among other things. I usually try to clean out my bag each week because otherwise my purse would weigh ten pounds!  Apparently, I missed this one…..

I was totally embarrassed, but the reporter chuckled and asked, “How old is your son?” I told him he’s four and totally obsessed with fire trucks, monster trucks, and pretty much anything else that has wheels. He said his son was three and is just as obsessed and loves watching anything with cars or trucks on his iPad, which he sometimes has to wrestle away from his son for order to get work done! The entire tone of the lunch changed and instead of us rushing to get out of there, we sat at the table for another 30 minutes just talking about our kids and parenting in general. I turned him on to Mighty Machines, or what the Hubs and I jokingly refer to as “truck porn” for kids – 45 minutes of nothing but different kinds of trucks. Just enough time for mom or dad to finish up some leftover work, send out an emergency email, get dinner ready or put on a load of laundry! He gave me his “thumbs-up” review of the Children’s Museum of Manhattan which he had visited the prior weekend for the first time.

It was finally time to leave and as we shook hands goodbye, the reporter told me to email him more info on my upcoming project and he’d vet it out, but sounded like he’d be into doing something on it. SUCCESS!!

When I got home that night, I gave my son a kiss and told him that he had helped me at work today – and pulled out his fire department rescue vehicle. I don’t think he really understood what I was telling him, he was just happy to get his “favorite” toy back. Then I decided to forget about work for a while and got down on the floor with my son and daughter and played cars until the Hubs came home!